Sure, Look It, Fuck It

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Sure Look It, Fuck It – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Clare Dunne

Director: Tom Creed

I’m afraid to admit I’m tired of roaming / But it feels a weird kinda good to be home”

When life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and you find yourself living back in your childhood bedroom what can you do? Well, if you’re Missy, you draw on your eyebrows, get dressed up and go out and tackle the world. And if things don’t seem to be falling into place? Sure, look it, you can always say “Fuck it.”

Expectations weigh heavily on Missy (Clare Dunne). From the riotous, hugely successful stories people expect her to have come home with, to the constant fear of missing out that weaves through each day, she doesn’t quite know who she is or what she should be doing. Taking an alternative look at the life of an Irish emigrant, Sure Look It, Fuck It, is slightly unusual in that it looks at the experience of a returning emigrant. There is wealth of stories and theatre to be drawn out of looking at those who go away but find their way back again. Of those who, like Missy, spent six years in Brooklyn and come back with life experience but no money and a blank CV to find they have been priced out of Dublin and cannot barter their experience into paid employment or a new place to live.

The story is told in rhyme which adds bounce to each line and draws on the long history of Irish poetry to enhance the narrative and pull the audience into each step the character takes. However, Missy’s strong Dublin accent, not softened by her years away, combined with the rhyme scheme means that those unfamiliar with the accent have to concentrate hard throughout. Dunne has the audience involved in the off by asking them to finish off her old Dublin mantra by shouting out the last two words where appropriate.

Lighting designer Sarah Jane Shiels has great timing; ensuring the lights fill up the auditorium every time the audience shout out. Billowing smoke, high energy songs and a bright outfit choice round off the production. From the front rows, the lights being switched up felt a little much but may have had more impact for those sat further back. Dunne walks up and down the stage but has little to do with the back two thirds, making one wonder whether Sure Look It, Fuck It would do well in the future on a slightly smaller, more intimate stage.

This is the first full showing on Dunne’s work and it is clearly her own. The time spent developing Sure Look It, Fuck It was well spent; turning the story of an average woman into something that is both relatable and a tiny bit magical. Dunne positively fizzes and pops with energy from beginning to end. She gives each song, each rhyming couplet her all. Complemented by Ailbhe Dunne of Mongoose (last seen in Woman Undone on the same stage) on the guitar every time she sings Dunne takes off, filling the stage with her great voice and presence. With energy and an insight into what it is like to be lost in modern Ireland; it is impossible not to enjoy the vim and brio that she bought to the stage.

Image: Contributed

Kracked

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Kracked – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
Writer: Aibhe Cowley

Director: Eadaoin Barrett

Uncle Tony overdosed last month and has left the future of the family business resting on Sharon’s shoulders. Will KitKats and cocaine be her saving grace or will a frantic ex, fifty debts and a recent death in the family cause her to finally crack? Sharon’s story could be pitch black; certainly, she hasn’t had the best of luck in her young life, but the love and security she finds with her Uncle Tony brings a lightness to her story. Told in her broad accent and comedic manner this a touching portrayal of familial love.

Kracked first appeared on Irish stages as part of the Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival 2018 as a half hour play in development. Now developed into a full production, Kracked is one of the many plays that have benefited from this chance to evolve.

Music is the major driving force of this production. Sharon and Tony, not great at expressing emotions, connect through song. There are several moments in the play as it progresses towards the end when songs propel the narrative forward and give the audience an insight into our protagonist.

Set design is kept to a minimum; with a pink yoga ball and yellow rubber ducks being free to capture the eye with their bright colours and quirkiness against the darker backdrop of the Boy’s School stage. Lighting director Bucky Emmerling’s timing is excellent; keeping the focus on Cowley at all times. With further development, the scenes that swell with emotion and sadness could be sharpened in juxtaposition to the frequent laughs and humour that runs through Cowley’s script.

It is clear that Cowley has lived with her character since her creation. She seems perfectly at home inhabiting her cadence and mannerisms. Kracked is a one-woman show and Cowley pulls off the difficult task of keeping the audience listening with aplomb. Several moments of audience interaction worked very well and gave Cowley’s Sharon the chance to show off her friendly and bashful side – along with her knowledge of horses and KitKats!

However, the title Kracked isn’t quite apt. The character of Sharon is so well drawn and easy to like that the audience are pulled into her both her humour and her grief. Sharon is too fully recognisable (to Cowley’s credit as writer and performer) to be seen as cracking up.

Soon to be performed at The Mill Theatre, there should be plenty more time for Kracked to continue blossoming.

Image: Contributed

Dinner in Mulberry Street

Dinner in Mulberry Street – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre

Writer: Fitz-James O’Brien

Adaption: Michael James Ford

Director: Bairbre Ni Chaoimh

In Dinner in Mulberry Street Christmas in New York is falling far short of a fairy tale. It is 1857 and newlyweds Agnes and Dick have fallen on hard times. Unable to find work they must use every ounce of creativity and initiative that they have to avoid starvation. As the drama unfolds pieces of their former life are brought to life. Agnes was a social heiress; used to the finer things in life and without a care in the world. When she met Dick, a charming and worldly young man with big ideas they fell in love. Marrying for affection saw them abandoned by their wealthy relatives and left navigating a world of poverty. Having sold all that they own and resorting to using the last of their furniture for firewood, they are in need of a miracle. With Christmas just around the corner will our couple find salvation in time?

The entire play takes place within their tenement room. The world outside is alluded to and feels as though it is pushing inwards. There are thugs on the corner and the ever-present fear of the landlord is stark when a surprise knock comes to their door. Based on a short story by Cork-born Fitz-James O’Brien Dinner in Mulberry Street is of its time. Although an engaging and hopeful story an opportunity to do something a little different was missed. The financial difficulty that the couple found themselves in could have been further drawn out. References to the perilous rental situation and financial strain of the Christmas period should have been particularly poignant.

Under set designer Andrew Murray Bewley’s has been turned into a mid-nineteenth century tenement home. The pallet bed in the corner and furniture made of wine crates immediately placed the action in the poverty and grime of the 1850s. The table set to the back of the stage remains bare except for a tablecloth. This is where much of the action is focused as Agnes and Dick fantasise about past meals and bring them to life with their imagination. A fire faces into the stage and Colm Maher’s lighting design complements the feel of the play as the stage is imbued with warmth and light at key moments.

There were some artful moments of comedy under the direction of Bairbre Ni Chaoimh. As Agnes and Dick role-play their old lives and past meals that they have relished, they each take on the part of former butler Hamish; slipping into Scottish accents to differentiate each character. This was carried on into the comical fight scene between Giacomo and Dick which was entertaining to watch. Ashleigh Dorrell played the part of frustrated, hungry, hopeful wife wonderfully. Subtle changes in mood and hand gestures let the audience into her character. The central relationship is well played and Dorrell and Jamie O’Neill as Dick make a convincing couple.

Dinner in Mulberry Street is a pleasant Christmas treat.

Image: Contributed

Woman Undone

Woman Undone – Project Arts Centre

Text and Lyrics: Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan, and Mary Coughlan

Original Music: Valgeir Sigurdsson

Director: Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan

Woman Undone premiered at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre and from the queue of people waiting to go in it was clear that this was one of the theatre seasons big draws. For someone unfamiliar with Mary Coughlan the reasons soon became clear.

Mary has lived quite a life. We are informed in the opening that she has paved the way for women, and been one of Ireland’s best-loved singers. But we are also told that she has lost much in the process. This is the story of how she became herself; how a young girl became unraveled; and it is the story of her relationship with her father. As her early life is re-imagined on stage the adult Mary is able to step in and comment. At times her anger and fury are palpable. At others, the fear, confusion, and sorrow pour from the stage. Woman Undone features alcoholism, addiction, abuse, and mental illness. Seen through the prism of Mary’s life these themes reflect many of the tropes of the Irish woman over the past six decades.

Four women dressed as men are first to take to the stage. They are the group Mongoose. Their musical additions complement the haunting score and each person takes on an active role in the re-imaging. Mary’s father, played by Molly O’Mahony, is smart and sure in his army uniform. However, when she is born he doesn’t know what to do with a daughter. He is awkward and uncomfortable around her. The choreography is very well done; showing how loving relationships can be full of pain. Dancer Erin O’Reilly was mesmerising and vital throughout. From the moment she crawled onto the stage as the infant Mary she takes ownership of the role, using movement to tell the often dark and harrowing story.

The set design complemented the action perfectly. A red car to the left of the stage; broken, full of music, steam and the possibility of life. Mary’s life froze when she was involved in a car accident and much of her later trauma comes back to moments spent trapped in that red car. It holds her in place until she is able to break free of the past. Audiovisuals and strobe lighting are used at points of high emotion to elevate the production.

When Mary sang she dominated the stage. The only slight niggle: there were a few moments of speech that showed that more work needs to be done on enunciation and projection to ensure everyone in the theatre space can hear. With such an important piece of theatre, it would be a shame for any of it to be missed.

Mary’s life has involved a lot of pain and hardship. Tonight this pain was turned into art. Emotional, moving and at times deeply sad, it took several minutes to get one’s breath back after the ending.

Image: Simone Rudolphi

 

Split Ends

Split Ends, Bewley’s Café Theatre

Split_Ends_Square_960_960_s_c1Performed and Conceived by Lauren Larkin

Writer: Lauren Larking and Aisling Byrne

Director: Aisling Byrne

 

Bewley’s has been turned into an upmarket hair salon, and in place, early as always, is Amy. She is ready to take on the day and confirm her position as providing the best curly blow dry in Dublin. Amy is very much someone who gets what she wants.

 

Amy, played by Lauren Larkin, is on stage as the audience arrives. She knows you have to work hard and wait for what you want. All good things come to those who wait. Don’t they? This is what Amy tells herself. Well, its what Oprah and facebook tell her when she needs them too. However, how long can someone keep waiting patiently with no deadline in sight? She has three regular visitors who are all good company with their own stories to tell. From the older woman who keeps talking to hide what is inside, to the harried career woman with too many plates to juggle, to the young girl who is preparing for her communion like it is her wedding day. The salon is where they find a few moments for themselves and over repeat visits Amy gets to know more about each one as they confide in her. As Larking slips in and out of each character with ease, their secrets start to unravel and in turn we start to learn more about the Amy that the outside world doesn’t get to see.

 

The title fits the play perfectly. Split ends develop after hair experiences weathering and damage. When left too long the split begins to lengthen. This causes irreversible damage and the split has to be cut off. Can Amy refashion her life into something new, or will the split ends continue to damage and break?

 

This was not the first outing for Larkin’s Split Ends. It was developed at FRINGE LAB and first performed as a part of the Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. It is always a pleasure to see a play develop and make use of opportunities like Show in a Bag; to explore what can be done with the script and to fully develop an idea.

 

The set has been very well designed. Larkin is always busy, folding towels, flicking through magazines and on the phone. One suspects that a local salon was raided for the day to provide the necessary props. This was a great touch that elevated Split Ends and added a note of authenticity to the production. Excellent timing is demonstrated throughout, with lighting designer Colm Maher working in sync with the action on the stage. The final emotional scene was good but could have done with a little more oomph. Several days after seeing Split Ends the impact had faded more than it should have done considering the climax cuts close and is slightly uncomfortable to watch for those who have recently shared the same experiences. However this speaks to the power of the central truth at the heart of Split Ends and the skilful way in which Larkin and Byrne have told this story.

Saint Nicholas

First Written by The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: Saint Nicholas – Smock Alley, Dublin

Writer: Conor McPherson

Director: Simon Evans

“In the dark, there are vampires.”

So, first things first. This is Brendan Coyle’s return to the Irish stage for the first time since 2002 and he is reuniting with playwright Conor McPherson for the Irish premiere of Saint Nicholas. For everyone wanting to know if it was worth the wait: it was.

Named “the finest playwright of his generation” by The New York Times McPherson is one of Ireland’s favourite contemporary playwrights. The last time he teamed up with Coyle was on the Olivier Award-winning The Weir in 1999. As a result, expectations were high for the mystical monologue Saint Nicholas.

Commanding and charismatic Coyle plays perhaps the most bad-tempered and disgruntled theatre critic to grace the stage. He wields his pen as if it is full of poison. Renowned and feared among Ireland’s acting community our nameless commentator enjoys the fear and power he holds over others. Jaded and uninspired it has been a long time since he really enjoyed himself, felt something real or created a story of his own rather than commentating on the creations of others. (Those with an axe to grind against theatre critics will definitely enjoy Saint Nicholas.) During a mediocre version of Salome (well, in truth he thought it much worse than mediocre) he becomes infatuated with a young actress. From this point on his life is thrown off course. Unsettled and desperate his actions endanger his career and home life. At his lowest, he meets a man with a youthful face and a strange magnetic pull. This is William. And William is a vampire.

The main stage of Smock Alley is perfectly suited to the frequently dark and mysterious feeling of the play. The sound effects were subtle and used to great effect to maximise emotion and change narrative direction. Lights were kept to a minimum. This is a man who lives his life as the skies turn dark; frequenting pubs and theatres when the sun has gone in. The auditorium is shrouded in a fine haze and the darkness of the story – and of our narrator – is reflected in the lack of bright light. Lighting designer Matt Daw has worked hard to create a chilling atmosphere. For the second half candles surround the stage and spotlights are used to follow Coyle as he paces the stage.

An exceptional and absorbing production Saint Nicholas is the Dublin Theatre Festival’s crowning glory.

Image: Helan Maybanks

The End of Eddy

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: The End of Eddy – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Edouard Louis

Adaptor: Pamela Carter

Director: Stewart Laing

“Today I will be a man.”

There has been a trend in recent months for plays that explore what it means to be a man and how to go about being so. The End of Eddy fits into this pattern and delves into the ideas of manhood and masculinity in unflinching detail. For the young Eddy, growing up “visibly gay” in a town that values hard labour, violence, and strength, he couldn’t have been more out of place. Based on the groundbreaking book En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule by Edouard Louis The End of Eddy is an innovative and powerful production.

His tale of sexual awakening is both intensely personal and also universal. Kwaku Mills and Alex Austin shine as Eddy. At times playing him simultaneously, at others taking it in turns. They also interact with themselves in character on four screens that line the stage; Austin playing Louis’s mother was a particular highlight. Both actors have an obvious love and appreciation for the source text that reverberates throughout their performance. Although well directed the production could have made more use of the entire stage and the bus shelter at the back was under utilised.

Pamela Carter’s adaptation draws heavily on the text while also creating something new. They take the unusual approach of introducing the play and at times Mills and Austin turn to the audience and step through the fourth wall to change the narrative. This was an interesting and novel approach that made the audience feel a part of the action. Some might feel that this broke up the narrative flow of the piece, however, it was done with such charm and an obvious love for Eddy that it felt natural. The play is at times comic, incredibly serious, and finally tinged with hope. One feels that Carter’s version is perhaps more optimistic than the original and this feeling spread through the audience bringing them to their feet at the end.

Image: Contributed